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November 2011
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
An Interview With Ron Sutherland Of Sutherland Engineering 
Interview By Phil Gold

 

  No one makes more elegant phono preamps than Ron Sutherland. The PH3D and Hubble are battery powered, while the 20/20 is AC powered. Sutherland Engineering also markets the Timeline laser device to precisely measure turntable speed to less than 2 parts in a million. Now Ron introduces a new product.

Phil: You are introducing a new preamplifier.

Ron: Yes, this is a new preamplifier in one box. It's a phono preamp, a line stage and a power supply, like the old fashioned days, all in one box. The Model name is N1. You get it?

 

Phil. I think so. As in all-in-one.

Ron: Good. You're the only person who's ever got that. Now usually a line stage with a phono section, well it's just a plug in card, it's not a good phono stage, just barely good enough.

 

Phil: There have been exceptions.

Ron: Yes. The N1 is for systems that use Phono as the primary input. They want a serious first class phono section. Half of this area is phono stage, so it has a good phono stage and a good line stage. These are mono boards, precisely the same, stacked one above the other, then you've got your power supply.

 

Phil: That's a very small power supply.

Ron: It's a 25 watt switching power supply, and its output is kind of noisy. But it's filtered electronically way before it gets over here to the audio circuitry.

 

Phil: So there's no battery option?

Ron: Not with this one because its power requirements prohibit that.

 

Phil: It is beautifully laid out.

Ron: It's got 5 inputs and two outputs.

Phil: What are all these caps here?

Ron: These are the power supply caps, from Nichicon, they're Japanese and these red ones are Wima from Germany and I have put 1% polystyrene capacitors in the phono EQ. Polystyrene is the best for that application. So there are only two capacitors in the signal path. Everything else is direct coupled.

 

Phil: So this is moving magnet and moving coil?

Ron: It has gain options you plug in at the side. It doesn't have all the options on the board. You plug in what you want and that reduces the clutter.

 

Phil: So does it come with a set of plug in cards?

Ron: Yes. Gain options of 45dB, 50dB, 55dB and 60dB. Loading options of 47k, 10k, 4.75k, 1k, 475, 200 and 100.

 

Phil: And if some new cartridge comes along with unusual requirements you can make new cards?

Ron: Yes, but I also supply some blank ones you can put your own resistors on. You can play with values, you can play with brands. This is not very convenient, because it's not about convenience. I don't want to put it on the back panel. I don't want to put it on the front panel. I want to put it where the signal is. So it's optimized for the shortest connections. So that resistor that you want is here. It's all done for purity. You have a complete range of options, but they're just not on the board. You just plug in what you want.

 

Phil: Is this remote controlled?

Ron: Yes it has a remote control.

 

Phil: And an unusual display.

Ron: Those are called Nixie tubes and they were invented in 1955. They were the first numeric display.  Before that you'd have 10 light bulbs lined up with numbers stuck on them. This is the first in line numeric display.

 

Phil: Why are you using these?

Ron: Because people like them and I like them. It's for fun.

 

Phil: And they are reliable?

Ron: Yes. They're good for 100,000 to 200,000 hours, and there's a timer that turns them off when you're not using the control.

 

Phil: And you expect to leave the unit on all the time?

Ron: You leave it on all the time but the Nixie tubes will turn off. When you change the volume they pop back on. That's another way to stretch tube life. I bought thousands of them. New Old Stock - from Russia. The way they work is the numbers are formed out of wires and they're in layers. There's neon gas in there, so if I put 170 volts on that wire it's going to glow neon orange. So, that's the concept. Check out Nixie Tubes on Wikipedia.

 

Phil: How does the volume control work?

Ron: It's an optical encoder / processor on the display board and then attenuator chips over here on each audio board. We have one knob, that's the volume control, 0 to 99.

 

Phil: In 1 dB increments?

Ron: Approximately, some of them are 1dB and then 0.5dB as you get bigger. 76 is unity gain, and then it goes up twelve dB from there. Push the knob in and it mutes quickly. It goes up gently as you unmute by pushing in again. To select input, push the knob to mute. Now turn the knob to switch input. So when you're muted it's an input selector. Each input ramps to its own remembered volume level.

 

Phil: On the remote control there are separate buttons?

Ron: The remote has three buttons - Volume up, Volume down and Mute. The remote control works exactly the same as the front panel knob. So when you're muted, the volume up/down selects your input. I'm such a fan of simplicity. You have volume control, input selection and muting, very neatly, all in one knob.

 

Phil: OK. What is the N1 going to retail for?

Ron: $10,000.

 

Phil: And what are the dimensions?

Ron: 17" by 17" by 3"

 

Phil: Thanks Ron.

www.sutherlandengineering.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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